Finding the Perfect Wedding Dress & Solving the Anxiety that Can Come with Searching for It

If you've been in the throes of wedding dress anxiety, I feel for you. What is it about the dress process that swings so quickly between deliriously fun and crazy disappointing? On my first appointment, I went from Boston to New York.. because why not explore out of state, big city, over budget options? I had a bounce in my stride on the way to the bridal salon, thinking about how fancy the idea of a salon for dresses was, and envisioning gushing over so many options, with a full glass of champagne.

Dress Shopping.jpg

Then, things got real. There was no champagne. The sales woman was a dud, a dud who did not get me. Most dresses were in some secret vault, brought to me if and only if the dud felt they were right. The fitting room had a whole lot of natural daylight, and as Tina Fey writes in Bossy Pants, “unfiltered natural daylight is the enemy of dreams.”

My dreams of finding the perfect dress started to disintegrate, and I felt like I was overheating. I had the acute sense that I was not so much trying on dresses, but costumes, or big cream puffs. And this would be how I walked down the aisle, in a big cream puff that was melting. 

It took me a while to get a grip. Like 24-36 hours. But I did get a grip, and I successfully exorcized my wedding dress anxiety before finding a dress that felt like it was made for me.

Here are a few tried and true ways to be calm, cool and collected in your own search.

1. Know your shopping archetype Maybe you’ve never wedding dress shopped before, but you have most definitely shopped, and this is invaluable information. Shopping can bring out funny strengths and can weddings, so it’s helpful to take stock in advance and ask “In the context of shopping, am I impulsive, indecisive, a people-pleaser, introverted, or extroverted?” I’m definitely a shopping introvert. I like to go solo or with just one person, otherwise it feels overwhelming. I can also err on being a people pleaser, so if I have the wrong shopping buddy, I will likely waste time trying on options I would never consider wearing.

* As a side note, I also feel better with a workout and a blow out, and I can’t even think about setting foot in a store if I’m hungry. This is all a bit more self-analysis than is the norm, but it pays off; this is your wedding dress we’re looking for after all. It should be fun!  

2. Take assessment of your body, but do so in a loving waySeriously. Come up with 3-5 features you want to highlight, not low light. I can’t recommend this exercise enough because it will give you a sense of appreciation for your own unique figure. Even if you do not know your silhouette, you can say I want a dress that shows off my shoulders, enhances my height, and reveals my waist. How different and more confidence boosting is this than saying “let’s find something that hides [insert flaw here]? So different! Shop from that happy and empowered place.

3. Get video Identify the designers you like and search for videos on YouTube. The videos will tell you where the fabric moves, floats, and hugs, which can make you fall in or out of love with a design, or even a cut, very quickly. If the designers you like do not have runway footage, browse through images and zoom. A key thing to ask is “Does the model look at ease in the dress?” For example, a dress caught my eye, but when I zoomed in, I noticed that it was barely staying put on the model’s bust. This was a waif with an A-cup and super glue between her skin and dress, none of which will apply to me on my wedding day, so as much as I loved that dress, the photo helped me rule it out.   

5. When in doubt, keep it simpleIf it’s your first appointment, find your silhouette first (A-line, Mermaid, Trumpet, Princess, Sheath to name the biggies). If you do nothing else but find the one or two silhouettes that suit your personal style, you have made a huge dent in getting to the perfect dress. From there, tell your sales associate what you're going for in just one or two words. While I hope you have someone intuitive and style-minded, it’s good to be prepared for the alternative, the dud. By using just a few buzz words – “Sexy. Classic.” or  “Lace. Elegant.” – you can cut through a lot of the b.s. and get to your dream dress.

Check out our Style Reviews of wedding dress salons and shops


What was your wedding dress shopping experience like? Are there any tips you picked up along the way?